1940's Tea Dress Sewalong No. 4: Assembling the Bodice

Hello lovely sewalongers!

We hope you managed to get through the measuring, tracing and cutting unscathed and are ready and raring to start SEWING! Woohoo! Today we're going to be constructing the bodice of our tea dresses. This is probably the trickiest part - but it's also the most rewarding and fun bit to sew. We'll be on hand to help with any parts you're stuck with, so you can contact us on Facebook or via Twitter at @SewOverIt.

Just a couple of quick reminders for anyone who's feeling rusty. We're using a 1.5cm (5/8") seam allowance for this pattern, so pay close attention to the seam guide markings on your sewing machine, lining the edge of the fabric up with the correct line as you sew. Go slowly as you stitch around curves, making sure you are as accurate as possible. You'll want your stitch length set at around 2.5mm - we'll let you know when you need to change it. And we know we don't need to say this but we're going to anyway - always backstitch at the beginning and end of your line of stitching! If you don't do this your dress will literally fall apart at the seams, and that would spell tragedy.

Finishing the seam allowance
As in our instruction booklet, we will be instructing you to finish the raw edge of the seam allowance as we go. It is important that you do this to prevent your fabric from fraying at the seams - which would shorten the life of your lovely dress. There are a number of ways to do this. Probably the easiest way to do it is using a zig zag stitch on your sewing machine. You want to set it so that the outermost stitch (the right side) just - and only just! - misses the edge of the fabric. That stitch then catches the loose threads and should prevent them from going anywhere.

If you are the proud owner of an overlocker (serger), you can overlock all your seams for a professional-looking finish. This is the finish you see on most ready-to-wear clothing, and is what we will be doing here for our tea dress. If you haven't got one at home never fear - we have overlockers available for use in our sewing cafe, so if you're a Londoner and you want to get your overlock on, pop in and we'll show you how.

It's not usually quite as effective, but you can also pink your seams using pinking shears (scissors with a serrated blade). We don't recommend this if you've chosen a fabric that frays a lot, but it can work - if you hunt around in vintage shops you'll find that a lot of garments used to be finished this way, and their seams are still holding up fine.

If you're feeling more confident, you can bind your seams with bias binding for a truly lovely finish. You could also use French seams, which is a technique where you sew each seam twice - first with the fabric wrong sides together, and then you turn it over and sew it again, right sides together. This creates a really neat finish with no raw edges. (We're planning a blog post dedicated to seam finishes in the near future so if you'd like to learn more keep your eyes peeled for that.)

From time to time we can all get a little lazy and finishing can sometimes get forgotten. No-one else is ever going to see it, right? But come on ladies, we don't want any premature dress deaths around here - finish those seams! And trust us, when a handmade dress is as pretty on the inside as it is on the out, it feels a hundred times more amazing to wear.

Okay okay okay. You've been warned. Let's get sewing!

First thing we're going to do is sew the midriff section, pieces F and H. Place the centre front panel (F) face up and lay one of the side panel pieces face down on top of it, lining up the edges and making sure the notches match. Stitch this seam, give it a nice quick press to set the stitches, and then finish the seam allowance with your chosen method. Press the seam again, this time towards the back of the garment. Repeat this step with the other side panel.

(Quick note: the X marks on the fabric are to indicate the wrong side.)

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Now finish the whole top edge of this new piece you have sewn and pop it aside for the moment.

Taking one of the bust panel pieces (G), sew a line of staystitching down the front neckline.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Staystitching is a single line of straight stitching, close to the edge of the fabric so that it is kept within the seam allowance and won't show on the finished garment. For a 1.5cm seam allowance we recommend staystitching at around 1cm. Staystitching is really important because it stabilises the fabric and prevents it from stretching out of shape. It's essential around necklines especially because if your fabric stretches here it can mean you're left with a slightly gaping neckline that doesn't fit as it should do.

After you have staystitched the neckline, finish the seams down the centre front edge, and continue around the bottom edge of the bust panel.

Next, set your stitch length to 4 and sew two lines of gather stitches between the notches, parallel to the bottom edge. No backstitching required here! You need to sew these gather stitches within the seam allowance, one at 0.5cm away from the bottom edge, and the next at 1cm away.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Give the top two threads on either end a little pull to begin gently gathering up the fabric.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Repeat these steps on the second bust panel piece. Remember to change the stitch length back to 2.5!

Now sew the two bust panel pieces together at the centre front edge. Press this seam open.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

We're getting to the fun part now.

Line up the bottom edge of the bust panel (which will be slightly gathered) with the top edge of the midriff panel pieces. Check that the centre seam you have just sewn on the bust pieces is matched up with the pointy tip of the midriff panel. Pop in a pin to secure it here.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Line up the very edge points of this seam, and pin again. With these three points now pinned you can adjust the gathers on the bust pieces to fit. You might need to give the threads a further pull to get the two pieces to fit together. We find using a pin, rather than your finger, really helps to distribute the gathers evenly.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Once you're confident it's all looking nice and even, pop a load of pins in there and stitch the seam. Make sure you pivot (needle down, presser foot up, adjust fabric) at the pointy tip to create a nice sharp look.

Press the seam allowance upwards towards the bust panel.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Now we've created a beautiful bodice frontage let's get to work on the back.

Stitch the side back and centre back pieces (C and D) together, lining up the notches.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Press, then finish the raw edges before pressing them again towards the centre back.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It
Time now to stitch the front bodice to the back, starting at the shoulders. Neatly line the two sections up, pin, and then sew. When you've done this, sew the side seams of the bodice. Press and finish these seams before pressing again, towards the back.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

Once you have done this the only open seam should be the centre back, where the zip will go.

1940's Tea Dress Sewalong | Sew Over It

You can try the bodice on at this point. So exciting!! See if you can get someone to pin you up at the back, leaving what will be the 1.5 seam allowance, and check the fit on yourself. Make sure you do plenty of crazy moves - you need to make definitely sure you can move comfortably. If you feel it's looking a little baggy, try taking it in a little at the side seams. If it's a little tight, do the opposite and let out the seam allowance at the side seams. Adjust the shoulders at this point too - if they're tight let them out and if they're sitting up too high, take them in a bit.

But that's it - you've sewn a bodice! Let us know how you're getting on on Facebook and Twitter - any problems just ask.
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